By - Roseli Serra
For almost 30 years, I have observed many teachers and have noticed some of them have had difficulties setting and correcting homework for several reasons from time management to lack of interest on the part of the students. I have then started to think about the theme "homework" and made myself the following questions:
Much of the current rhetoric surrounding homework focuses on the time students spend on it, since they are always too busy or too tired to set some time for doing their homework. Children mostly depend on their parents who are always busy or do not know how to help. Teenagers, this peculiar audience, are either quite busy with their school work, or are putting all their energy on their own world finding "something more pleasurable to do". On the other hand, teachers are also overloaded with work and might not be able to handle correcting workbooks, compositions and projects apart from the lessons they have to prepare.
Having said that, should homework be neglected? I'd say no! Not at all!
Homework in a foreign language class is essential, as it provides opportunities to the students to further practice the language. This allows the language to really set in and take hold. In addition, homework is a vital part of learning. It is the time students spend outside the classroom in assigned activities to practice, reinforce or apply newly acquired skills and knowledge and to learn necessary skills of independent study.
Experiencing and reflecting about the theme made me ask some questions to myself, which led me to some interesting arguments and conclusions in favour of homework. Some of the benefits are:
For one thing, particularly in EFL situations (especially in monolingual countries), the students do not get enough interaction with English during class time. Many times, students only get three or four hours a week of lessons. Or to put it another way, it takes 6-8 weeks to be in an English environment 24-hour day. If it's important enough to teach, it's important enough to practice and elaborate on.
Students can do things away from class that they can't do in class- like write and read longer passages, design projects, etc. Surprisingly, most students want to do something away from the classroom. In adult classes where I've been reluctant to give homework in the past, students have come up to me and asked for it. As long as it is real practice, and not just busy work, you don't have to feel bad about assigning homework.
Engaging students with homework:
Students should feel that homework tasks are useful. Homework tasks should be interesting and varied. It should include not only written tasks, but tasks focusing on all skills. Furthermore, we teachers have to make sure homework is developmentally appropriate, differentiated, and able to be done independently. It is a challenge to design homework assignments that meet individual SS's academic and developmental needs, but, when homework is too hard or too easy, it may have a detrimental effect. Teachers should strive for the "just-right" challenge for each student and should ensure that homework is "do-able" without the need for outside help from a parent, peer or tutor.
As teachers we should reflect on the purpose of homework before assigning it to our SS. I have noticed that it is worth helping students understand the purpose and value of the homework and give it the value it deserves. If students perceive homework as busy work, meaningless, and of little value to the teacher, they may tend to be less interested in learning. Some ways to increase the engagement factor is to allow students choice and voice in their homework assignments.
Students' attitude to homework should be improved, for example, they would be allowed to contribute with ideas to design their own tasks. Let them choose which problems to do, or which topics to write on, or allow them to stop when they believe they understand the concept. For me this leaner centred approach and negotiation will indeed divide the responsibility of the learning process between students and teachers, not to mention the fact that their sense of achievement will be increased.
In the 21st century, when technology is available, user-friendly and hands-on, homework might become a very interesting activity to be done extra- class. I believe that online homework is one way to achieve SS engagement with it as well as it might stimulate them to produce language with tools they are familiar and feel comfortable with. Examples of this could be collaborative edublogs, platforms like Edmodo, Google Tools, web tolls and apps, such as slideshare, voicethread, poplets, padlet, glogster and many others.
Tips for setting homework:
Assign homework in the first class. There are several reasons for this.
Students quickly tune into the mood of their teacher. If the teacher presents homework correction as a valid and interesting part of the learning process it will be infectious and homework corrections will never be boring again!
Useful tips on correcting homework and have your students engaged:
Enjoy your teaching! If you won't, who will?
*Roseli is an enthusiastic educator in Brazil. Graduated in English and Portuguese, she works as an ELT consultant, teacher trainer, materials writer, Cambridge examiner and e-moderator. She's a member of the IATEFL LT (Learning Technologies) subcommittee and works, teaches and trains professionals in the area of TD and LT. She's also a psychologist, a mentor and a coach certified by SLAC (Sociedade Latino Americana de Coaching). She has a post-graduate degree in Applied Linguistics and is now doing her MA studies in Science of Languages at UNICAP (Universidade Católica de Pernambuco). She truly believes in life-long learning and teacher development.